I wrote yesterday but didn’t come over to my blog to post about it. And I’ve written today. Neither story follows the Story-a-Day prompt. Even though I liked the prompts, no ideas came. So, I just wrote something else.
First, here is a story about a moment in the childhood of a character in my work-in-progress. It is what I call a sci-fi fairytale. There’s a lot I want to do to this story, but I was trying to keep it under a thousand words. (It’s actually 1,004.)
Seven-year-old Shalanda dropped her school books on the floor and plopped into the chair next to her grandfather’s bed. Her feet swung over the floor. “Who’s that?” she asked, staring at the guest standing on the other side of her grandfather’s bed.
Her grandfather smiled. “HULLO, sweet Shal!”
Shall winced at the shouting. “I’m glad a friend’s come to visit!” she shouted back before smiling at the visitor, who nodded, but said nothing.
“I’m glad you’re visiting too!” her grandfather replied. “You come every day! That’s why you’re my favorite!”
She beamed. “But grandpa!”
He coughed and angled his face toward the water pitcher. Shal poured him a glass and handed it to him, making sure the straw made it to his lips. Turning to the guest, she gave a hint of a curtsy. She prided herself on her manners. “My name’s Shalanda,” she said. “I’m the seventh child of his seventh child and I come every day to tell him a story.”
The guest bowed.
She squinted. “You a man or a woman?” She immediately covered her mouth with her hands. “Sorry,” she said, her words muffled through her fingers. But neither the guest nor her grandfather scolded. Her grandfather shut his eyes while he sipped his water, both hands tightly gripping the over-sized cup. Slowly, Shal lowered her hands into her lap. But her question remained unanswered. Nothing abut the guest looked one way or another, not the long black coat, not the short, wiry hair. “You a doctor?”
The guest shook his, or her, head.
“You from around here?” She thought of all the states and countries her grandfather had known.
The guest shook her, or his, head again.
“You from our world?” They didn’t get many folks from other planets, and she had no memory of her grandfather talking about friends out in the universe, but there were many things her grandfather had yet to share. He’d tell her everything once he was well and she was older.
But again the guest shook their head and gave no other reply.
She sucked in the side of her cheek as hard as she could to keep from scowling. You’re a child, her mother would remind her. You’ve got to stop expecting grownups to give you the time of day just because you ask. “Well, it sure is nice of you to visit from so far away. He needs more company.”
Her grandfather finished his water and she took the cup. “What story do you have for us today?” he asked.
Silent, the guest sat in the wooden chair on the other side of the bed, under the window. Sunlight streamed in and silhouetted the guest, making their features near impossible to see.
Shal didn’t like to share a story with a stranger, but she couldn’t see how to say no. And if the guest were a friend of her grandpa’s, then he’d be her friend too. That’s how things worked. She settled back into her chair, glad the visitor had left the cushioned chair for her. “Today’s story is about Finley and Ladybug.”
Her grandfather clapped his hands. “Those two are my favorite!”
Shal considered the guest. “Finley is a moon rabbit,” she explained. “You know what a ladybug is? I read about them in school. They’re from Earth.”
Shal sensed this answer satisfied him, or her. “Ladybug is the last of her kind though ‘cause the rest went extinct. But I bet you guessed that, right? One time some boys at school went into Mrs. Callum’s garden and destroyed everything. They smooshed the bugs and ripped up the flowers. Then one boy lay on the ground pretending to die.” Shal gripped her own neck as if choking. “Those dumb boys were playing a game, they was playing Earth. Boy, Mrs. Callum was mad. First, she made the whole class watch a documentary about the Great Collapse, and then she made us go to that memorial in the park.” She paused for a breath. “You seen it?”
“Shalanda! Just you get to the story. We don’t have all afternoon!”
She reddened, and while she didn’t hear the visitor laugh, she sensed they did. “Sorry, grandpa.”
“No time for sorry, sweet Shal. Just for story.”
She told him another tale of Finley and Ladybug, and how they’d gotten lost in the park, and how Finley tumbled into an unknown burrow and Ladybug fluttered around his ears as they explored, fighting a giant spider, then a squid.
“In the burrow?” her grandfather asked.
“There’s an ocean underground,” she explained. “And they tried to swim across it because they didn’t the little boat.” She went on until the end when Finley and Ladybug found their way back up again in a completely different side of the park, a place they’d never been, very far away from home. “I’ll have to tell you the rest tomorrow.” Shal looked to the guest. “You’ll have to come back to hear it.”
Her grandfather pulled up his blanket. “It’s comforting to know I haven’t heard the story’s ending.”
Shal made a face. “You gotta know the ending. I go crazy if I don’t know the ending.”
“Do you, sweet Shal?” He grunted as he reached over and patted her hand. “Now, sweetheart, I’ve another guest, and I’m going to need you to go.”
Shal leaned forward in her chair. “But, grandpa.”
“You’ll meet this visitor one day. But now is the time for you to go play.”
“But grandpa, I—” Shal quieted. She kissed her grandfather on the cheek. She looked again at the visitor. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Shalanda.” The visitor’s voice chilled. “You’ll always see me when I’m near.”
“O…kay.” One more glance at her grandfather, she shut the door. “This is silly,” she muttered, shivering. She marched back. “I’m going to finish the story for you, grandpa!” she shouted. The room echoed. The visitor wasn’t there, and though her grandfather was in his bed, he would never hear the end of her story.
Now to make this post longer than most, here is the first half of today’s story. Just the first half! I tried writing it in present tense instead of the past as an experiment. It may stay that way. It may not.
On a planet a little known and far away live the Hammington family, their servant girl, and no one else at all. The Hammingtons are eleven—four grandparents, two parents, and five children. The twelfth soul on this tiny, moonless rock, is Olivia Sylvia Marsh, and she does all the work.
The Hammington family enjoys having their own planet, however small. The youngest of the children often asks if perhaps they can have a moon, won’t Jupiter sell one? It has so many! More than its share.
But the parents want the dark sky and don’t care to waste the money.
Olivia doesn’t want a moon in the sky anyway, not that anyone asks her. A moon is for someone with time to gaze and wonder, and she is far too busy.
There’s the cooking and the dusting. Oh the dusting! It is a very dusty planet, which is one reason the Hammington’s bought it so cheap. Olivia sometimes dreams of dust storms and being smothered by rags.
There’s the laundry that takes hours. No one in the family except grandmother Jo ever wears the same thing twice in a month. Grandmother Jo sometimes wears the same dress three days in a row, which causes the parents to yell and squabble. There’s no reason to give up being civilized the father says. Why did she even agree to come? the mother asks. Olivia doesn’t care why Grandmother Jo vexes her family, she’s just glad to have one less dress to wash on Tuesday and Friday afternoons.
There’s the mending. Every dress and trousers needs a seam stitched or a bead reattached or a ribbon pressed. What good is a moon for darning socks?
There’s whatever else the family thinks to need—polishing a set of silver spoons, beating the dirt out of a heavy rug, washing a sloping skylight, or tending to a fire of trash. Olivia ignores the children’s demands for moons and cats and cotton candy trees. She is in no position to grant wishes and the comforting of children is not on her list of chores.
Grandmother Jo mends and washes her own clothes. She fixes her own plate of food and makes her own bed. Olivia is grateful but doesn’t know how to say so. The parents discourage her from speaking unless to ask which vegetable they want for dinner or the color the tablecloth should be.
One evening the youngest whines again about wanting a moon, not even a very big one, and Olivia rolls her eyes. The parents send her to her room to think about what she has done.
Olivia stretches out on her bed, stares at the rafters, and thinks about her home. It isn’t her home anymore and never will be again.
She rarely allows herself to remember the apple trees in her parents’ backyard. She doesn’t like to remember her father pushing her on the swing and her mother spinning her in the air. She doesn’t like to remember the illnesses that took them. The illness was a master thief, sneaking into homes and stealing people’s breath, a little every day, until all their life was gone.
The thief stole thousands of lives in her hometown, and millions of lives on the planet. Some folks could afford the security of medicines that kept the thief away. A few more could simply relocate, leaving the thief nothing to steal. Such were the Hammington’s. Olivia knows she is lucky to escape the thief by accepting the Hammington’s protection. Her parents’ land paid for her passage and now her work pays for her keep.
She hates her punishment. Being sent to her room to think is the worst of all the punishments the Hammington’s have devised. She doesn’t think about her transgression. Instead, she thinks about her parents’ laughter and the soft blankets on her childhood bed. She thinks about the moonlight coming into the window of her childhood home and its silver light. She wishes she were too tired to think. That’s what she loves about her work. At the end of each day she falls straight to sleep, and her morning chores help her forget she has dreams.
Restless, Olivia forces herself to her feet. She goes to the narrow window. The night sky has stars and they are beautiful. But there is no moon and therefore no moonlight. The garden is all shadow. The planet is silent and alone.
A shimmer of white catches Olivia’s attention. In the garden a figure moves from the star tomato vines to the gate. For the briefest moment, Olivia imagines she’s seeing a ghost, even though she doesn’t believe in ghosts, and so she blinks and leans against the window. Her reflection obscures her view and the figure disappears between the trees on the other side of the gate.
Olivia goes back to her bed and to staring at the rafters. But the ghostly figure loops through her thoughts. With a sigh, she goes to her door and steps into the hall. She listens to the silent house. Children are giggling in their far off rooms. The dusty breezes are creaking through the attic. She assures herself she is alone and heads down the four flights of stairs.
At the garden gate Olivia looks around for ghosts or tricks of light. But there is no moon, and she wonders what trick of light she could expect.
The woods are dark. A little ways in, however, a speck of light appears. Olivia trips and stumbles against trees, but goes deeper into the woods. Soon she makes her way further into the woods than ever before and it is only then that she wonders if she is safe. Then suddenly it’s as if a light has been thrown. The woods fill with light and she covers her eyes. It takes time for her eyes to adjust and what she sees surprises her more than anything she’d ever seen.
In the heart of the woods is an iron cage. The cage takes up the space of a tree. You could fit three or four grown elephants standing on top of one another inside the iron cage. But inside is not elephants nor parakeets nor anything you’d expect. Inside is a moon, a full bright moon looking for all the world that it might burst through the bars and float away.
Thanks for reading!